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Culinary leaders in France are waging a war against Camembert made with pasteurized milk—and they're losing.

Elisabeth Sherman
May 17, 2018

One thing we can say for certain about the French is that they produce, hands down, the best cheese on the planet. It’s precious to them, their most valuable natural resource even. That’s why it must bring them great pain to do the unthinkable—boycott French Camembert. But boycott it they must, because starting in 2021, the government will allow fake, phony, altogether unacceptable Camembert made with pasteurized milk to be labeled the same way as Camembert made the traditional way, with raw milk.

As the New York Times reports, around 40 top French chefs and wine and cheese makers have signed a petition demanding that President Emmanuel Macron himself step in and put an end to this madness. The letter ended with this truly incredible line: “Liberté, égalité, Camembert!”

Do these French culinary leaders seem to have a flair for the dramatic? Yes, absolutely. They’re simply passionate about cheese. Who among us hasn’t gone to extreme lengths to protect our cheese? These strict French cheese traditionalists have cause to worry, though: The original way of making Camembert has been in danger of disappearing for quite some time.

As Food & Wine reported last year, of the 360 million wheels of Camembert that are produced in France every year, only four million are Camembert de Normandie—Camembert made with raw milk.

In the past, so-called industrial producers of the cheese (who used pasteurized milk) have been allowed to call their products Fabriqué en Normandie (Made in Normandy). These new regulations would allow them to give their cheese the aforementioned traditional name, Camembert de Normandie. Those producers who still use raw milk can use the term “True Camembert from Normandy” to differentiate between the two styles—a slight change of phrasing that signifies a world of difference and is the source of all this drama.

By the way, there's a strong chance you’ve never actually eaten true Camembert, in the United States at least. The FDA doesn’t allow the import of raw milk products into this country.

So what do the French think of fake Camembert? Well, if this strongly-worded letter is to be believed, they don’t like it. The letter calls Camembert made with pasteurized milk “plaster,” an “ocean of mediocrity,” “lifeless matter,” and yes, even “treason.” When the French start to talk treason, that’s when you know things are getting serious.

The letter’s author, Véronique Richez-Lerouge, suggested that if the new labeling rules move forward, she and her colleagues—one of whom called this cheese “a monument of the French culture”—will have no choice but to boycott the entire Camembert industry. Clearly, they'll do just about anything to protect the sanctity of their cheese.